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UB-123
Posted by: Mike Y. ()
Date: February 24, 2004 03:36PM

<HTML>"When submarine UB-123 attacked the ferry Leinster, it torpedoed Germany's last hope for a 'soft peace' in 1918"

by Ann B Sides.

Military History. Herndon: Oct 1998. Vol. 15, Iss. 4; pg. 24, ISSN: 08897328

Abstract (Article Summary)
The German sinking of the Irish ferry Leinster in 1918 effectively ended Germany's chances for a generous peace and paved the way for the harsh and punitive terms of the armistice ending WWI.

October 10, 1918, dawned cool and hazy over Dublin Bay. Hundreds of passengers crowded up the gangways of RMS Leinster for the three-hour passage from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) to Holyhead in Wales. Many of the travelers were troops returning to the trenches from home leave in Ireland. For once, the day's headlines gave them reason to hope they might survive the slaughter on the Western Front. German troops were in full retreat hefore the thrusting Allied armies, and Germany was asking for an armistice.

Leinster was a mail and passenger ferry whose 23-knot speed was considered the best defense against the German Unterseeboote (submarines) that were frequently active in the waters around Ireland. As an additional precaution, Leinster was usually escorted by a Royal Air Force airship from a dirigible base north of Dublin. On October 10, however, the airship failed to appear as Leinster steamed unarmed and unescorted into the choppy Irish Sea.

Less than an hour out of port, still within sight of Ireland, Leinster was ambushed by UB-123, commanded by 21-year-old Oberleutnant zur See Ramm. Although she was nearing the end of her second cruise, UB-123 had yet to carry out a successful attack on an Allied ship.

The first torpedo Ramm launched at Leinster missed. Passengers on the ferry's deck saw the wake and shouted a warning. Before the crew could act, however, a second torpedo ripped into the bow, slicing through the mailroom and killing 21 postal sorters at their posts. Letters spilled into the sea through the gash in the bow as passengers and crewmen rushed to their boat stations. As the first lifeboats were lowered, a third torpedo struck amidships, triggering a boiler explosion. The ferry went down by the bow within 15 minutes. Of the 687 passengers and 70 crewmen aboard, only 193 were rescued. It was the most costly submarine attack against a civilian vessel since the sinking of Lusitania in 1915. Several of the dead were American citizens.

News of the tragedy reached Washington as President Woodrow Wilson considered his next move in peace discussions with Germany. Three days earlier, the Swiss minister, acting as intermediary for the Imperial German government, had handed Wilson a diplomatic note: "The German Government requests the President of the United States of America to take steps for the restoration of peace, to notify all belligerents of this request, and to invite them to delegate plenipotentiaries for the purpose of taking up negotiations. The German Government accepts, as a basis for peace negotiations, the programme laid down by the President of the United States in his message to Congress of 8 January 1918....

"In order to avoid further bloodshed the German Government requests the President to bring about the immediate conclusion of an armistice on land, on water, and in the air."

The German note represented the culmination of everything Wilson had worked for since the war began. Without consulting Britain or France, he quickly drafted an encouraging reply, asking Germany for clarification.

Wilson, a political scientist with a profound knowledge of European history, had considered both sides at fault in the war. In August 1914, he admonished Americans to "be neutral in thought as well as in deed" and declared that the United States would stay out of the conflict. However, the sinking of the British liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, and the deaths of 128 U.S. citizens outraged America and led to a sharp exchange of notes between the United States and Germany. The sinking of the British passenger liner Arabic on August 19, 1915, took the lives of two Americans and prompted Wilson to wam the German govemment that continuing submarine incidents would lead to a rupture of diplomatic relations. Kaiser Wilhelm II, on the advice of his foreign minister, ordered the German navy not to sink passenger ships without warning and without providing passengers an opportunity to escape.

The kaiser's admirals argued that restrictions on submarine warfare endangered the U-boats and virtually neutralized Germany's most powerful weapon. In early 1916, Germany began attacking merchant vessels without warning in the war zone around Britain. One of the first casualties, the French-registered passenger ferry Sussex, was torpedoed in the English Channel. The vessel did not sink, but a number of passengers were killed and the injured included four Americans.

The Sussex incident provoked a vociferous protest from the United States. Wilson dispatched an ultimatum: "Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether."

Under intense pressure from his foreign minister, the kaiser again reined in the U-boat campaign until February 1, 1917, when the Germans opted to gamble the fate of their empire and resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. By mid-March, the U-boats had sunk five American freighters. On April 6, the United States declared war on Germany.

The United States had sided with the French-British Entente as an "Associated Power," rather than an official ally. President Wilson had no desire to destroy Germany, which he saw as a counterweight to French power on the Continent and a profitable trading partner for the United States. On January 8, 1918, Wilson laid out in his "Fourteen Points" America's peace objectives, as the nation mobilized for total war. Wilson basically sought what he called a "peace without victory." In essence, the Fourteen Points required the Central Powers to vacate occupied territories and make good the damages done. All parties to the conflict would be required to reduce arms to defensive levels, respect freedom of the seas, move toward self-determination for colonies, and refrain from engaging in secret diplomacy.

Germany's offer to negotiate peace directly with Wilson seemed to establish the Fourteen Points as the common goal of the Western alliance, but the British and French had never assented to them and had no intention of doing so. Having suffered terrible economic and human losses, they could settle for nothing less than a total, punishing victory over Germany.

Public opinion in America had also turned against the Germans. More than 120,000 American casualties in the bloody spring and summer campaigns of 1918 had made hawks of many who had opposed America's entry into the war. Senate hardliners introduced a resolution calling for "no cessation of hostilities and no armistice until the Imperial German Government shall disband its armies and surrender its arms and munitions, together with its navy." Newspaper editorials on both sides of the Atlantic denounced the German peace offer as a trick. General John J. Pershing, Wilson's commander in Europe, advised against an armistice, believing the Germans would use a cease-fire to rearm, regroup and attack again in the spring.

Germany's second note, confirming her acceptance of the Fourteen Points "as the foundation of a permanent peace," arrived on Wilson's desk as he pondered the reports from Europe, describing Leinster's last agony. The leaders of the Entente lost no time exploiting the disaster to convince the U.S. president to back away from his unilateral peace negotiations.

The Times of London called the sinking "one of the saddest and most unforgivable of the submarine murders. .. in some ways worse than the Lusitania, for the enemy [then] made no pretense, such as he makes now, of anxiety for peace....The German government has not changed at all...."

"At the very moment of asking the Allies for peace and uttering copious promises of reform, Germany has committed one of her foulest crimes against humanity," thundered the Irish Times.

British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour told American journalists that the sinking was "an outrage against an Irish packet boat carrying men, women, and children." Balfour said Leinster was carrying no military stores and "served no military ends."

Balfour's remarks were a distortion of the truth, for Leinster was carrying hundreds of Allied troops, including an American military delegation led by Captain Hutchinson Cone, commanding officer of U.S. Navy air services in Europe. Most of the American victims were military personnel, including Cone himself, who was severely injured. However, the press, muzzled by wartime restrictions on reporting troop movements or casualties, continued to refer only to civilian victims.

Wilson believed a generous peace with Germany was the best guarantee of future stability in Europe, but Leinster's sinking completely undermined his belief in Germany's sincerity. Although the German government quickly expressed regret for the incident, Wilson, under pressure at home and abroad, drafted a harsh reply to Germany's peace offer: "At the very moment that the German Government approaches the Government of the United States with proposals of peace, its submarines are engaged in sinking passenger ships at sea...."

Germany's chance for a generous peace had slipped away. On October 20, the Kaiser's government abandoned unrestricted submarine warfare, but the measure was too little and too late. German armies continued to fall back toward the borders of the homeland. Insurrection broke out within Germany. Sailors mutinied at Kiel. On November 9, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated. On November 11, German envoys in a railway car at Compiegne signed the humiliating armistice document that was to be a framework for a harsh and punitive peace.

UB-123 never returned to Germany and is believed to have been blown up in a minefield in the North Sea on October 19. Because of rough seas, relatively few of Leinster's dead were recovered. Many of the civilian victims were buried in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery, while the bodies of British military personnel lie under neat ranks of Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones in an immaculately kept, unmarked British military cemetery near Phoenix Park in Dublin.

The wreck of Leinster lies 100 feet below the surface of the Irish Sea, four miles east of the Kish lighthouse. The winking of the light, easily visible from the mail boat pier in Dun Laoghaire Harbor, serves as a constant reminder of the 564 souls who sailed to their deaths 80 years ago in the last great sea tragedy of World War I.</HTML>

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Subject Written By Posted
UB-123 Mike Y. 02/24/2004 03:36PM
Re: UB-123 Jim Pettit 02/24/2004 08:31PM
Re: UB-123 philip 04/29/2004 05:15AM
Re: UB-123 Jochen Romstedt 02/15/2017 06:15PM


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